Somehow, the Snyder cut is even worse

Images courtesy Warner Bros.

0/10 Zack Snyder’s Justice League opens with a title card reading “This film is presented in a 4:3 format to preserve the integrity of Zack Snyder’s creative vision.” The words “Zack Snyder” literally come before the Warner Bros. logo.

In 2017, I called the theatrical cut of Justice League one of the worst movies I’d ever seen, and it is, and I say to you unequivocally, the Snyder cut is worse in every imaginable way. If I were tasked with turning Zack Snyder’s Justice League into a passable movie, the first thing I would do is shave the hours and hours of fat until we were starting with something remarkably similar to the theatrical cut. Every addition is bad. Every single new thing in this cut makes the movie worse.

For anyone who doesn’t know the story, over the past 10 plus years, Warner Bros. has been scrambling to bring the DCEU, its longform comic book property adaptation, up to box office speed with the outrageously successful MCU, Disney’s longform comic book adaptation. This culminated in 2017 with Justice League, a sad abortion of a movie that was, sadly, aborted – series director Zack Snyder’s daughter unexpectedly died partway through production, and he had to step down from the project. Warner Bros., which was not happy with Snyder’s previous work or initial workprints, had already brought in Joss Whedon, who had notably directed the first big MCU crossover movies, to help rework the tone of the film months earlier, and they took the opportunity to give Whedon full control of the project.

No one was happy with the final product, and over the years, fans of Snyder’s initial Superman movies, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, demanded that an initial workprint from before Whedon was brought onboard, popularly referred to as the Snyder cut, be released, thinking everything would be solved if only Justice League was more in line with Zack Snyder’s creative vision. Snyder himself and several of the cast members took to social media to fan these flames, and last year, Warner Bros. finally caved and committed $70 million to completing the animation and post-production work for the cut while also shooting some entirely new scenes, because after four years of insisting “the Snyder cut exists,” Zack Snyder’s creative vision still needed just a little more photography.

This is one of many reasons the idea that Zack Snyder’s Justice League truly represents Zack Snyder’s creative vision is a goofy lie. Once he got involved in the “release the Snyder cut” bandwagon, Snyder was constantly coming up with new ideas that he claimed were his original intent all along. There’s new footage in this that was shot specifically to be added to this cut of the movie, and there’s prominent footage from the theatrical release that we know was shot by Whedon, including a scene with Henry Cavill’s infamous CGI jaw.

A side-by-side of the theatrical (left) and director’s cut aspect ratio and color grading. Everyone’s got a little more headroom in the Snyder cut, and higher contrast is always nice. It’s different, which I think is all Snyder wanted it to be, but not the sort of dramatic reframing that would fix something this poorly made.

After Warner Bros. announced its entire theatrical slate would also be released on HBOmax, Snyder started asking for a day-in-date theatrical release of his own, complete with an intermission as he’d originally intended, seemingly to no avail. Snyder first started talking about how he’d originally intended for the movie to be presented in the 4:3 fullscreen aspect ratio all along at Justice Con last year, likely because he’d seen The Lighthouse and its striking 1.19:1 aspect ratio, despite having talked about storyboarding and shooting everything in the much more common 1.85:1 ratio when the theatrical cut came out. In November 2020, almost certainly after seeing Best Picture winner Parasite, Logan or Mad Max: Fury Road’s black and white releases, Snyder suddenly started saying his ideal version of Justice League was in black and white, too.

To the extent that this does represent Zack Snyder’s creative vision, it seems that creative vision was simply to be as long and as miserable as possible. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is more or less a scene-for-scene remake of Justice League, just stuffed with two extra hours’ worth of garbage. The scene where Batman (Ben Affleck) tries to recruit Aquaman (Jason Momoa) has a few extra words, several extra minutes of glacier shots and a minutes-long coda for the nameless Icelandic villagers to sing a miserable Icelandic song. The whole movie is littered with extra shots, and sometimes entire sequences, that add no new information, and plenty of bit actors are given tons of extra runway to go through their emotions. In some sequences, like Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) bank robbery scene, it feels like almost every shot is in slow motion.

They went back and re-animated Steppenwolf frame-by-frame, but did nothing to fix Cyborg, whose eerie stagnant reflections were one of the hardest things to watch in Justice League.

Snyder has also clearly set out to outdo himself in terms of abject misery. There’s a whole new scene of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) staring at the Superman monument so they can cram in some miserable Nick Cave song – in fact, there are three extended sequences earmarked especially for miserable songs, a Snyder signature.  Wonder Woman also has a new theme that is conspicuously labeled in the subtitles as “[ancient lamentation music].”

You can’t make a movie two hours longer than its theatrical cut – or, probably more important to the creatives here, one hour longer than Avengers: Endgame – on extended scenes alone, you need to bring in new scenes altogether. For Zack Snyder’s Justice League, that mostly comes in the extended origin story for Cyborg (Ray Fisher). The character, who was almost completely removed from the theatrical release, has been described as “the heart” of Zack Snyder’s creative vision for the movie, and the film delivers on that to a degree. Cyborg didn’t have his first solo movie scheduled until three years after Justice League, and Snyder was clearly using this movie as a platform to set him, and to a lesser extent Flash (Ezra Miller), up. The new edit spends much more time fleshing out Cyborg’s angst, killing his parents and establishing him as some kind of internet god, but he’s not really a decision-maker, and he doesn’t drive the plot forward in any way. His talents are tactically important, but in a superhero movie where anyone can be written to do anything, that counts for almost nothing.

Maybe it means something when a character you describe as “the heart” of your movie lifts right out?

Even after four years of fan outrage, four years with which to analyze how to perfect this movie – Snyder famously refused to watch the theatrical cut, but this is almost certainly just another lie, given how much of the theatrical cut ended up in his creative vision – Zack Snyder’s Justice League still has all of the theatrical cut’s same problems and more. Scenes still feel incomplete and out of order. The special effects are still atrocious. The rear-screen effects are still lazy and easy to spot, which is a massive problem for a movie in which almost every shot has some kind of rear-screen effect.   

The character designs are still some of the ugliest ever put to film. Cyborg in particular, despite his character being thrust into the spotlight, looks just as ugly and unfinished as he did in the theatrical cut. Darkseid (Ray Porter) looks like a rock with glowing eyes. Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) got a facelift, but adding more detail to an already poor design doesn’t actually improve that design.

And even with two extra hours of stuff, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is still full of plotholes, most of which are much bigger than anything that had come before. Justice League was initially intended to feature Darkseid, the DCEU’s overarching villain, in a bit role, but since he was teased and cut from the theatrical release, Snyder wanted to give him a bigger role, so since both Steppenwolf and Darkseid are completely computer generated characters, they’ve drawn Darkseid into a flashback sequence over where Steppenwolf was previously introduced. You can tell this probably wasn’t originally part of Zack Snyder’s creative vision because Darkseid is portrayed as carrying a weapon, which the character almost never does, in the exact same manner and choreography that Steppenwolf does in the theatrical cut.  

The theatrical cut made Cyborg and Flash feel noticeably more like real people than their castmates, despite, we now know, having most of their backstories cut. It’s an ironic twist that reveals just how poor the film’s characterizations are overall and just how much more charisma and dialogue matter to making a relatable character than knowing all the details about how their parents died.

With this change, Darkseid is portrayed as having come to Earth millennia ago and lost both his motherboxes – the mystical terraforming devices the plot centers around – and the anti-life equation – the, it doesn’t matter, it’s a thing he wants – here, and then somehow forgotten about it. Steppenwolf has a few “Zoom meetings that should have been emails” scenes where he reports back to his bosses every time he gets one of the three motherboxes, and in one of those meetings he tells Darkseid these things that have been reframed as Darkseid’s own experiences, and Darkseid is shocked to learn them.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League opens with an agonizing, miserable six-and-a-half minutes spent in the moment of Superman’s (Cavill) death in Batman v Superman watching his death rattle physically ripple across the globe, awakening the three motherboxes, but the motherboxes predate Superman’s arrival on Earth by several thousand years. How did this relationship develop? The line “No lantern, no Kryptonian” is repeated several times in reference to Earth’s vulnerability, has there been a Kryptonian or a Green Lantern based on Earth for five solid millennia until this point? I’m sure there’s an extremely detailed explanation for this, but it isn’t in the movie.

How does Batman keep dreaming the canonical future? In Batman v Superman, he had an extended nightmare of a future in which Darkseid had enslaved Superman and conquered Earth – in the theatrical release of Batman v Superman, this was right next to the sequence teasing all the characters who wouldn’t be introduced until Justice League, leading to effectively a 20 minute pause for trailers in the middle of the runtime – and in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, he has another one, this one almost certainly the product of Snyder’s new footage for this cut. How does this keep happening?

Just as Batman v Superman tells Man of Steel’s critics, “Actually, you loved The Terrorism Hour, here’s an even longer one,” Zack Snyder’s Justice League tells Batman v Superman’s critics, “Actually you loved this overlong miserable mess filled with test footage for other movies, here’s an even longer and even more miserable mess filled with even more test footage for other movies!” Between this new nightmare sequence, tacked haphazardly onto the end of the runtime, and the extended backstory for Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg crammed crassly into the middle, Zack Snyder’s Justice League starts to feel even more like a bigger, longer retread of Dawn of Justice.

Everyone involved in the project has been eager to paint Zack Snyder’s Justice League as a labor of love, of the actors’ love for their characters, of Snyder’s love for his daughter and of the fans’ love for Zack Snyder’s creative vision, but the DCEU does not love. The DCEU begs.

They look terrible in low contrast daylight, they look terrible in no-contrast night lighting, but sure, they’ll all look better in high-contrast black and white. Keep begging, everyone.

In the early ‘10s, Warner Bros. begged Christopher Nolan to keep making their superhero movies, and when he wouldn’t, they continued to write him blank checks for whatever weirdo time travel movie he wants to make and begged him to join the DCEU as an executive producer, a title he still holds for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, paying him merely for the right to put his name on movies he had no interest in making. Everything about Man of Steel’s initial marketing, down to its title, was meant to convince as many viewers as possible that Nolan was still involved.

The DCEU begged to get started. The 2011 Green Lantern was initially planned to kick things off, but those plans were scrapped when everyone hated that movie. Man of Steel’s nature as a franchise starter was leaked before it released, and given how troublesome its reception was, they might have backed off had that not happened. The DCEU begs to be compared to the MCU, flashing forward to its major crossover movies almost immediately and then spending time in those crossover movies setting up characters who will maybe one day get their own solo features – the latest news on a Flash solo movie is a Nov. 4, 2022 release date, but they’re still writing whole characters in and out of the script for a movie that was initially announced for March 2018.

Snyder’s fanbase begged Warner Bros. to finish and release the Snyder cut, and now, Zack Snyder’s Justice League begs that same fanbase to continue begging for even more, which they will, even though they already know the beat-for-beat plot details of the movies they’re begging for.

Watching Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an infuriating exercise in endurance and masochism that adds nothing to what was in the theatrical cut, but this isn’t about making good movies. Only a small minority of the people who wanted to see this, who begged to see this for years, ever cared about Zack Snyder’s creative vision. This movement is about winning. It was about Snyder stoking and exploiting outrage to revive his career, as it was for several of the actors who joined in. This type of mob absolutely could not have formed were it not contemporary to President Donald Trump’s time in office, and the film critic community absolutely would not be settling for it had it not been contemporary to the massive wave of Democratic voters behaving the same way. If filmmaking and distribution can be an evil and predatory act, this is what that looks like.

But if the Snyder cut movement is a cult and Snyder’s use of them is deliberate and exploitative, and it is, it’s hard to say anyone’s been victimized – by the movie’s release, that is, the Snyder cut people victimized plenty along the way. Warner Bros., bullied into throwing more money down this sinkhole, is no real victim, the company has always been more than willing to drop money on movies that don’t deserve it, and this presented a unique opportunity to add content during the pandemic, when most film production was shut down. No one’s been defrauded, and the only lie is that this is an accurate depiction of Zack Snyder’s creative vision, which only a fool would believe anyhow.

As with most bad movies, the only victims are the people who sit through it.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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1 Response to Somehow, the Snyder cut is even worse

  1. jr says:

    Very entertaining and accurate review. Pls update your Twitter as I hadn’t seen this until a rare excursion into Facebook.

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